Baking Challah Article -
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Baking Challah

Whether you make a simple braid or an intricate shape, challah is a crowd-pleasing loaf.

Making the Dough

A heavy-duty mixer or bread machine will make quick work of incorporating all your ingredients into the dough. Like all enriched doughs--sweet rolls, brioche, and other recipes containing eggs, butter, or dairy products--challah takes time and patience. The yeast needs a long time to develop in order to leaven the heavy mixture. Don't rush the rising process.

Shaping the Dough

After your dough has gone through the rising stages, it's ready to be shaped. For a two-loaf challah recipe, divide the dough in half. Wrap half the dough with plastic and refrigerate it while you shape the other half. Divide the dough half into three equal portions for braiding. Shape the portions into rounds and let them rest for about 10 minutes for easier rolling; cover the rounds with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.

  • Roll the three dough rounds into ropes. If the dough starts to tear, stop and let it rest for a few minutes before proceeding.
  • Pinch the three ends together to seal, and braid; be gentle, and don't pull the dough strands too tightly or stretch them.
  • When you've finished, pinch the ends together to seal. Tuck the ends under the loaf to hide the seam.
  • Let the loaf rise on parchment-lined baking sheets, covered with plastic wrap, until doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, braid the remaining half of the dough.
  • To test if the loaf's ready to bake, flour your index and middle fingers, and gently poke the sides of your loaf. The indentations should remain; if the dough springs back, it needs to rise more.
  • Brush with egg wash and top with seeds, if desired.

Bake according to recipe instructions, until the bread is deep mahogany in color.

    Different Shapes

    Beautiful four-, five-, and six-strand braids make impressively complex loaves, but require a high amount of skill from the baker. A similar effect can be achieved by stacking one small three-strand braid atop a larger one before letting the dough rise.

    Rosh Hashanah: Round

    The round loaf made for Rosh Hashanah is the simplest to make of all of the High Holy Days challah shapes. If you are using a standard 2-loaf challah recipe, divide the dough into two equal portions and shape into rounds.

    • Roll each portion into a long 18x2-inch "rope." Taper one end of each rope so one end is thick, the other thin.
    • Place the thicker end of a rope in the center of a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet and coil the rest of the dough around the center.
    • When the length of dough runs out, tuck the thinner end underneath the coil and pinch to seal.
    • Repeat with the remaining length of dough. Proof, egg wash, and bake as directed.

    Yom Kippur: Ladder

    Prepare a standard 2-loaf challah recipe, letting the dough rise as directed in the recipe. When you're ready to shape the loaves, divide the dough into two equal portions. Wrap half the dough in plastic and refrigerate it while you shape the other half. For a three-rung ladder:

    • Cut the dough in half. Divide one half into two pieces, for the sides of the ladder, and the other half into three pieces, for the rungs.
    • Shape the pieces into balls, pressing out any air bubbles.
    • Form the larger portions into two long ropes and lay them parallel to each other on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
    • Roll the remaining dough into shorter ropes. Pinch the rungs to the sides of the ladder to seal.

      Brush the dough with egg wash and let it rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes or until it's ready to bake. (Poke the side of the loaf with your fingertip: the indentation should remain. If it springs back, it needs to rise a little longer.) Meanwhile, shape the second loaf.

      • When the first loaf is ready to bake, brush it again with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds, if desired. Bake as directed in the recipe. Repeat with the second loaf.

        Yom Kippur: Hand

        Prepare a standard 2-loaf challah recipe, letting the dough rise as directed in the recipe. When you're ready to shape the loaves, divide the dough into two equal portions. Wrap half the dough in plastic and refrigerate it while you shape the other half.

        • Cut off a small piece of dough--this will be the palm of the hand. Separate the remaining dough into three portions, one a little smaller than the other two--this will be the thumb.
        • Roll the three pieces of dough into ropes, tapering the end of the thumb rope.
        • Dust the ropes with flour to prevent them from sticking together.
        • Bend one rope almost in half, to form the middle and ring fingers; place it on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Wrap the next rope around the first one to form the index and pinky fingers. Attach the thumb, pinching to seal.

          Use a rolling pin to flatten the remaining portion of dough into a small round.

          • Lay the round over the base of the fingers to form the palm, and pinch to seal.
          • Brush the dough with egg wash and let it rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes or until it's ready to bake.
          • Before baking, brush the loaf with another coat of egg wash and bake as directed.

            Aug. 23, 2009 6:08 am
            I would love to see pictures of the hand and ladder. I think that if I tried a "hand" it'll look more like a rising sun, sigh....
            Sep. 15, 2009 9:22 am
            i never heard of making a ladder or hand... but many people make a key the sabbath after passover. braided with six strands comes out beautiful, 4 is nice too. you can also make it a round braid, i can't really explain it. but i prefer with more than 3 because 3 strands comes out messy by me.
            Sep. 16, 2009 10:55 am
            The hand is awesome! I'm going to try it making an "I Love You" shape (sign language). -\"/ Thanks for the suggestion!!
            Sep. 18, 2009 5:45 pm
            wow this looks great ^_^ cant wait to try this! it'll be my first time..hopefully things go smoothly!!!
            Sep. 25, 2009 6:05 pm
            I had a friend make a challah shaped as an apple for Rosh Hashana. And she used a clove to be a stem and a basil leaf to decorate it. The challah had chopped apples in it. Gorgeous!
            Oct. 11, 2009 8:19 am
            I love the apple idea!
            emmen robles 
            Nov. 2, 2009 8:04 am
            I always baked challah and it is very yummy.i've been expert baking for this.So i want you to try my recipi; 1kl.regular flour,1 pack dry yeast,6 tbsp.brown sugar,2 eggs,1/2 cup canola oil,2 cups water,1 tbsp.salt note:pour salt at the end HERE'S HOW: Pour in all ingredients in a mixer except salt.Mix it very well until well blended.After blending,leave or set aside for 1 hour.After 1 hour,lift up the dough,cut into 3 parts roll like hotdog and braid. Brush the dough with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.Bake for 40 minutes in 170 degrees.Hope you'll like it.
            Feb. 4, 2010 11:20 am
            Awesome article! I will be getting more creative with my bread :)
            Aug. 2, 2010 12:18 pm
            How may I print this recipe/pics? Jennifer
            Miss Rachel 
            Sep. 7, 2010 10:33 pm
            I bake challah every shabbat. It's a delicious bread and my family eats it with honey butter. I put poppy or sesame seeds on the tops of my loaves. I don't understand why it's an East-er bread though; during Pesach (passover in English) we are told to eat unleavened bread. Eating challah during that time, like most people do, is kind of oxymoron. :( They just don't know the Scriptures. Not to mention it's a pagan holy day. Good article on challah though! :) love this bread!
            Sep. 8, 2010 6:49 am
            I'll try to bake "the hand" challah as soon as possible. I appreciate it very much!
            Sep. 9, 2010 5:11 pm
            Miss Rache, Thanks for the idea of honey butter, sounds great. Did I understand your message to say that Easter is a pagan holy day?
            Sep. 9, 2010 5:12 pm
            for Jennifer: on my computer i just hit print file and it all prints, good luck
            Oct. 7, 2010 5:13 am
            Jami, Miss Rachel is right: Easter is the ancient fertility celebration of Ishtar or Ashtoreth (the one the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob forbids his people to worship). The KJV mistranslates the Greek word "Pascha" as "Easter" one time in Acts 12:4, but it's a well known error, and even Acts 12:3 tells the real holiday that was being celebrated. Passover is the holiday Jesus and his disciples celebrated. Passover commemorates Jesus' death, and the Feast of First Fruits (during Passover) commemorates Jesus' resurrection.
            Nov. 17, 2010 3:21 pm
            What a wonderful site I will be coming back many times ,and also sharing it with my daughters. long time ago When I was watching children in my home I had little ones 4,5,6, help me make challah one mom in particular was impressed but all had a good time.Children will surprize you when given a moment
            Mar. 18, 2011 7:31 am
            HB & Rachel: Thank you for your loving correction regarding the Lord's Feasts. It is refreshing to see the reminder to accurately apply the Scriptures. Numbers 6:24-26
            Jun. 2, 2011 12:16 pm
            I just wanted to know how to make one of my favorite breads and got all this extra info. As a Christian with strong spiritual ties to the Jewish history and faith I really appreciate the references to the Scriptures of HB, Rachael & JewlTonz.
            Sep. 28, 2011 9:11 am
            I have worked as a saute cook and called chef in a few very good restaraunts and bread has always been my weakness. This recipie seems so easy I can't wait to try it
            Oct. 2, 2011 5:27 pm
            I would like to print the instructions for "Baking Challah" but am unable. How come?
            Sep. 15, 2012 2:17 pm
            Bookte or Kolachke was the homemade bread I was raised on, parents being from Czechoslovakia. Mom always made this sweet bread even sweeter by adding prune paste, cream cheese, cinnamon nuts and raisins or apricots. She would add these to individual little folded up packages or make the long rolls with the butter, cinnamon, nuts and raisins. it was such a chore but she did it lovingly. My arm almost fell off from kneading and have sworn to find an easier way. Your posts about success with the big mixers is music to my ears. I would love to surprise my siblings at my oldest brother's b-day in Nov. or Christmas !
            Sep. 16, 2012 6:04 am
            Thank You talianko I always make this bread at Easter to remind my children of the sweetness of the Resurrection after the work of Good Friday. I will add the cream cheese and raisins this year.
            Sep. 18, 2012 9:01 pm
            I have had this bread before. but i never knew what it was called. my sister-in=law makes it every easter. one loaf per family. she raps a hard boiled egg in hers. its really good.
            Sep. 19, 2012 9:35 am
            I tried 3 times to print out this fantastic set of directions, etc. for challah bread and wasted 16 sheets of paper. Please help me. The recipes are great. Please, I want those directions.
            Sep. 26, 2012 1:16 am
            Challah...A firm favourite. Many thanks for the wonderful recipe, I shall 'try' to make this today. Like the idea of adding fruit to this Special Traditional Bread, so good to hear all your stories. I find it extremely interesting & informative. Many, many thanks to all of you...Excellent set of instructions for the different shapes & their meaning, much appreciated, Odelle.
            Oct. 18, 2012 5:17 pm
            hey Jami, if i can spk for you, challah bread is very much like the sweet egg bread catholics(especially my Italian heritage,not pagan :) ) serve at Easter. i enjoy both, especially toasted! Easter bread is often glazed & colorful.
            Sep. 8, 2013 2:57 pm
            Anyone having trouble printing, you can click and drag over the part you want to print, then right-click on your mouse. You should have an option to print from there or open Word and right-click and paste it. Then print.
            Sep. 8, 2013 3:00 pm
            I should have said right-click to copy and right-click again to paste. Sorry ~
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